atomic-resize.JPGGood evening Mr. and Mrs. North and South America and all the ships at sea…..LETS GO TO PRESS! FLASH! BULLETIN! THIS JUST HANDED ME!

The prosecution has concluded its case against Jose Padilla, and two others charged with conspiracy to help support violent Islamic extremist groups worldwide. The total hard evidence against Jose Padilla consists of an alleged Al Qaeda training camp application form document Padilla allegedly signed in July 2000. The paper was among a myriad of documents handed to a CIA agent in a remote area of Afghanistan by a complete stranger.

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear, a little over five years ago (06/10/02) when our Attorney General at the time, John Ashcroft announced:

I am pleased to announce today a significant step forward in the War on Terrorism. We have captured a known terrorist who was exploring a plan to build and explode a radiological dispersion device, or “dirty bomb,” in the United States.

Of course he was speaking of “Abdullah Al Muhajir (born Jose Padilla).” Ashcroft concluded his remarks with these thoughts, which could only make the nation feel more secure.

To our enemies, I say we will continue to be vigilant against all threats, whether they come from overseas or at home in America. To our citizens, I say we will continue to respect the rule of law while doing everything in our power to prevent terrorist attacks.

Yesterday, July 12, we learn that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has been asleep at the wheel. It’s either that or they thought that Ashcroft’s dirty bomb story was simply performance art.

In the category of “Oops, my bad” (story from Eric Lipton at the New York Times):

Undercover Congressional investigators [from the GAO] set up a bogus company and obtained a license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in March that would have allowed them to buy the radioactive materials needed for a so called dirty bomb.

The Government Accounting Office (GAO)…pesky little buggers:

demonstrated once again that the security measures put in place since the 2001 terrorist attacks to prevent radioactive materials from getting into the wrong hands are insufficient…(emphasis added)

Did you get that? “Once again”

[The GAO] used a similar approach last year when trying to smuggle radioactive materials across the border.

Could it be that even though Jose Padilla – our original dirty bomb threat – is safely shackled and manacled in jail, the danger of others producing such a blast remains real?

The GAO was pretty cool about their set up. A post office box-only construction company, with no office, Internet site or phones applies to the NRC for a license to purchase “dozens of portable moisture density gauges, which cost about $5,000 each and are used to read the density of soil and pavement when building highways. The machines include americium 241 and cesium 137…”

Like the one Padilla allegedly had in mind, “The bomb the investigators could have built would not have caused widespread damage or even high level contamination. But it still could have had serious consequences, particularly economic ones, in any city where it was set off.” This is why these dirty bombs are more properly called “Weapons of Mass Disruption”, rather than those of Mass Destruction.

The “bomb” the GAO could have constructed would have contaminated “the length of a city block.” Hell, a block, a mile, an entire city – the hysteria would have been the same. But hey, it’s not all bad, according to Edward McGaffigan Jr., a member of the regulatory commission’s governing board. They had already taken steps to remedy the situation. Yeah, like they had in 2003.

McGaffigan wanted to look on the bright side. The GAO effort, he contended, would not have been able to secure all that much radioactive material and was very expensive. McGaffigan had a better idea, more bang for the buck as it were. He suggested, “Why would I not blow up a chemical tanker on a train with chlorine in it or other toxic materials, at a tiny fraction of the cost before doing this very elaborate exercise?”

Has the arrest and current trial of Jose Padilla, spanning five years and counting, served as a dangerous distraction from the real threat of a highly disruptive if not devastatingly destructive dirty bomb? As Homer Simpson would say, “Doh!”

(with Rachel M. Koch)